Last month, I published an article in the Washington State Bar Association publication Bar News discussing the ways law firms might change their approach to office space as the vaccination rate increases and Washington moves toward fully reopening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That article went to press at a moment of optimism – and before case numbers in our state once again started to build into a fourth wave. While recent news reports of growing case numbers have been sobering, I remain optimistic that case counts will begin to drop with increased vaccination and continued implementation of mitigation measures such as masking and limiting indoor gatherings, and more businesses will fully reopen.

My article discusses how law firms might reduce the amount of office space they occupy, as more attorneys and staff opt to work remotely more frequently post-COVID than in 2019. Data from commercial real estate firms show that the legal industry is not alone in anticipating an increase in the frequency office workers will take advantage of flexible schedules and choose remote work at least a few days a week, leading to a reduction in the need for office space (if not a reduction in viewings of “Office Space”). Even comedian Bill Maher lamented in a recent episode of “Real Time” that his staff wants to continue to work remotely a few days a week well into the future.

What can a business do with more office space than it needs and multiple years remaining on its commercial lease?  It may be a bitter pill to swallow – and a hard hit to the bottom line – for a business to continue to pay rent for offices that sit unoccupied most of the time.  A business with more office space than it needs may want to investigate subleasing a portion of the unused office space to another tenant. Any sublease agreement is going to be subject to the terms of the underlying lease and, if it is allowed at all, will likely require the landlord’s approval.  Other business may consider relocating to a smaller location and assigning the existing lease to a new tenant. Like a sublease, any assignment is going to be subject to the terms of the underlying lease and, if it is allowed at all, will likely require the landlord’s approval.

In reimaging your business’s use of office space, it is important to familiarize yourself with the terms of your commercial lease: Does it allow assignment or subletting? If it is permitted, are there any conditions restricting the type of business that can occupy the space? Can you be released from your personal guarantee? In any transaction involving a commercial lease, it can be essential to have an attorney involved in reviewing any proposed agreements and in negotiating terms with the landlord. Are you exploring a change to your post-COVID office footprint? We’re happy to discuss!

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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